Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that Athletics right-hander Ryan Madson and Tigers lefty Justin Wilson are “two of the Nationals’ prime bullpen targets,” saying that Madson will be the easier reliever to acquire due to his contract and the fact that the A’s are determined to sell.
This news shouldn’t be too surprising to anyone who was followed the Nationals this season, because while they have a 42-28 record and have been one of baseball’s best teams through their first 70 games of the season, they’d surely be even better if they had a more stable relief corps. The Nats’ bullpen has blown 12 saves and has an NL-worst 5.13 ERA, and manager Dusty Baker has already enlisted the services of Blake Treinen, Enny Romero, Shawn Kelley, Koda Glover, and Matt Albers in the closer’s role this season. Joe Blanton, who was thought to be one of the top relief options available on the free agent market last winter, has posted a disastrous 9.19 ERA and 1.79 WHIP in 18 appearances this season.
Madson, 36, has a 2.63 ERA and 0.99 WHIP through 29 appearances this year. He’s been an effective closer in the past, having collected 86 saves over the course of his 12-season career, and there’s little reason to think he wouldn’t be able to handle the ninth-inning responsibilities in Washington. He also has a ton of postseason experience, having advanced to the playoffs with the Phillies in every season from 2008-11 and with the Royals in 2015. Madson is earning $7.6 million this season and earns the same salary in 2018, so the perpetually-rebuilding A’s probably wouldn’t have any problem shedding his contract.
Wilson, 29, has much less experience as a closer than Madson, having collected just six saves through his six-season major-league career, but he’d be a solid upgrade to the Nats’ bullpen nonetheless. He’s posted an above-average ERA+ in five of his six major-league seasons, and he’s currently enjoying one of the best years of his career, having posted a 2.67 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP while averaging 13 strikeouts and 3.7 walks per nine innings pitched.
Wilson, however, is earning a very affordable salary of $2.7 million this season, and he’s still got one season of arbitration remaining before he hits free agency after the 2018 season. The Tigers still have a shot to compete in the wide-open AL Central, and there’s really no reason for them to move him unless they can bring back an impressive haul.
The Nationals don’t have a ton of attractive trade pieces left after dealing three of their top pitching prospects for Adam Eaton last winter, but they’ve got a solid collection of mid-level prospects—particularly catchers and outfielders—who could be used to complete a deal for a reliever like Madson or Wilson.